WAPATO, Wash. — Once again, the Wapato Community Center — which provides activities to more than 300 youth in this rural Lower Valley city — has ceased operations.

A nonprofit group that operated the center for the past year, the Wapato Youth Athletic League, says it cannot afford the cost of a $2 million insurance policy on the building at 1009 S. Camas Ave.

The group operated the center for a year under a $1.5 million insurance policy, but says the larger policy now required by the city would increase annual insurance premiums from about $2,600 to $3,000.

“Basically what it comes down to is we can’t afford to be there and uphold what is in the contract,” said Mike Kennedy, who leads the group.

Giving youth affordable sporting events in this city of roughly 5,000 residents on the Yakama reservation, where poverty is high and opportunity slim, has always been a struggle.

The group provided youth baseball, soccer and basketball leagues and oversaw public rentals of the building’s gym. But the group raises its own funds that barely cover the cost of each sport, said Kennedy, a water distribution manager for the city’s public works department.

But the city can’t risk going with anything less than a $2 million insurance policy, said Mayor Jesse Farias.

“We have to protect the city’s interest, and if somebody got hurt there, the city would be liable,” he said. “It’s tough all the way around.”

The Wapato Athletic Youth League took over center operations in June 2011 after the building sat idle for six years after it was nixed from the city’s operating budget. Like many small cities, Wapato has long watched expenses dramatically outpace revenue, and has had to make steep budget cuts over the years that included ending funding for all parks and recreation, including the nearby municipal swimming pool.

The center is composed of a large gym, a kitchen and a few rooms and offices. Utility bills average more than $1,600 a month, Farias said.

The Youth League is now talking to the nearby Campbell Farm — a 40-acre Presbyterian mission retreat — in hopes of acquiring a place to organize local youth sporting events, Kennedy said.

“We’re trying to work something out,” he said. “We’re going to go somewhere. (Kids) have got to have some kind of structure, especially in a town like Wapato. Wapato doesn’t have the best reputation, but there are a lot of good kids in Wapato.”

The city isn’t sure what it’s going to do with the empty center, Farias said.

“It’s not the first time it’s been empty,” he said. “We’re looking around for different options. We don’t have anything right now.”

Phil Ferolito can be reached at 509-577-7749 or pferolito@yakimaherald.com.